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The First Human Satellite: Flying Free With the MMU

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during his flight test of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) in  February 1984 (NASA)

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during his flight test of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) in February 1984 (NASA)

31 years ago today, on Feb. 7, 1984, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first “human satellite” when he tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit during STS-41B. Self-propelled via 24 small nitrogen-powered thrusters, the MMU allowed McCandless (who was instrumental in developing the Unit at Lockheed Martin) to travel tether-free through space. In the iconic photo above McCandless is seen hovering against the blackness of space, 320 feet (98 meters) away from the Challenger orbiter.

A former U.S. Navy captain, McCandless was 46 years old when he performed his historic tether-free flight.

“May well have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me!”
– STS-41B Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, Feb. 7, 1984

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Learn How to See the Big Picture With “The Orbital Perspective”

The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles (By Ron Garan Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.)

The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles (By Ron Garan Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.)

If you’re anything like me you get a lot of your information online through various news and social media sources. This is great, as it puts the most up-to-date news in front of you instantly. But sometimes it’s nice to sit down and open up a book – yes, a real live book with pages you turn and non-clickable text (gasp!) – and explore a topic much more intimately than you normally could in a web article.

As a member of the “OP release crew” I recently had the opportunity to do precisely that with a pre-release copy of Ron Garan’s book The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles. A decorated fighter pilot, astronaut, and entrepreneur, Ron has logged 178 days in space and over 71 million miles in orbit (hence the title.) He is the founder of the nonprofit social enterprise incubator Manna Energy Foundation and is also the founder of Fragile Oasis, which uses the orbital perspective to inspire positive social and environmental action. During his time living and working in space over the course of two missions – shuttle mission STS-124 and Expedition 27/28 aboard the ISS – as well as participating in various humanitarian programs on Earth, Ron has developed a sense of acute awareness of the interconnectiveness of humanity, of how we really are “all in this together.” Unfortunately, regardless of how beautiful our planet looks from orbit there’s no denying that living conditions in many places around the world are belied by that beauty. Having seen the world first-hand from both viewpoints, Ron has become aware of the paradox but doesn’t feel that it has to be “just the way things are” – he believes we have the ability to change things on a global scale but only if we work together… only if we can achieve an orbital perspective.

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Endeavour Rolls Through LA Neighborhoods

The shuttle Endeavour is driven down Crenshaw Drive in Inglewood, CA on Saturday, October 13 (via NBC4 LA live feed)

This weekend the space shuttle Endeavour is on its way to the California Science Center, getting driven via Overland Transporter along 12 miles of Los Angeles roads at a more-or-less steady 2 mph. Hundreds of onlookers have gathered along the route to catch a glimpse of a real-life spaceship passing by just outside their front doors. Now that’s really not something you see every day!

Endeavour cleared one tree trunk by mere inches!

The move from Los Angeles International Airport, where it landed atop a Boeing 747 on Sept. 1, has been dubbed Mission 26. Endeavour flew 25 missions, traveled 122,883,151 miles and orbited Earth 4,671 times since 1992.

All together, the move is expected to cost about $10 million. The exhibit is set to open Oct. 30.

LA’s NBC affiliate is broadcasting Endeavour’s road trip live here.

(Images via NBC4 LA live video)

Farewell, Endeavour: The Last Shuttle’s Final Flight from Florida’s Space Coast

Space shuttle Endeavour left Kennedy Space Center this morning, September 19, 2012, ferried aboard a modified Boeing 747 headed for California

The space shuttle Endeavour, mounted atop NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), is seen shortly after takeoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The SCA, a modified 747 jetliner, is flying Endeavour to Los Angeles where it will be placed on public display at the California Science Center. The three-day trip will include flybys of many locations along the planned route, including New Orleans, Houston, Sacramento and San Francisco, as well as stopovers in Houston and Edwards Air Force Base. (Read more here.)

This is the final ferry flight of the Space Shuttle Program era and the last time an orbiter will take to the skies.

Photo credit: (NASA/Stan Jirman) See more images from Endeavour’s cross-country voyage here.

OMG Wow: Shuttle Landing Caught on Video!

Can’t see the video below? Click here.

This is one for the OMG Holy Crap files… a passenger on board an airplane waiting at JFK airport captured this incredible video this morning as the space shuttle Enterprise landed on the adjacent runway! Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime shot!

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One Week: Remembering the Last Landing of Atlantis


At 5:57 am EDT on July 21, 2011 the orbiter Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center, completing the STS-135 mission and bringing an end to the shuttle program. With memories of the launch still very fresh in my mind it’s hard to believe it’s already been a week since Atlantis’ final wheelstop. Very hard to believe.

“Mission complete, Houston. After serving the world for over 30 years the space shuttle has earned its place in history, and it’s come to a final stop.”

— STS-135 Commander Christopher Ferguson

Read more about the final landing and Atlantis on my previous post.

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